The ‘thermal column’ thing is actually pretty neat. Not fundamentally different from other ‘hot components touch the big heatsink, which dominates the chassis layout and airflow’ designs (eg. BTX); but definitely more elegant. It doesn’t strictly constrain the form (a variety of shapes suit the ‘central airflow’ constraint); but the form chosen is one of the ones that could follow that function, though probably not the most practical one.
Why it’s shaped like R2-D2, rather than a cube(hey, you could have crammed in a 3rd GPU or a second CPU!), a triangular prism, or any number of other shapes that could accommodate the central thermal core, that’s more of a ‘Because Jonny Ives says so, that’s why’ thing.